Therapist by Phone? Revolutionizing the Treatment of Tobacco Addiction.

August 28, 2018 9:30 pm

The increasing comfort of society with technology and the availability of remote options when it comes to therapy and support means that more and more clients are open to the possibility of receiving mental health services via either telephonic or computer technology. With an increasing emphasis on people managing their own health, telephonic therapy is one option in terms of a less resource intensive, more widely accessible and cost-effective form of delivering mental health services. This article addresses one such attempt to deliver mental health services via the telephone – the use of telephone counseling for assisting people in treating the addiction of smoking.

In the treatment of tobacco addiction, a combined approach of Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) and behavioral counseling is preferred. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) spearheaded this approach to treating addiction in the form of telephonic counseling.   Today, thanks to their efforts, across the USA each state has a quit line focused on offering behavioral counseling as well as free or discounted NRT. Quit lines have also extended into other countries but one of the barriers to the efficacy of these services is the lack of awareness of their availability.

Quitlines offer telephonic behavioral counseling with the intention of motivating and assisting smokers in quitting their tobacco addiction. The counseling consists of an in-depth process involving a trained smoking cessation counselor and the client who calls in. The process can involve once-off or multiple counseling sessions and is personalized to the particular circumstances and needs of the specific caller. As such, the service is proactive and based on offering an interactive counseling service.

The process of quitting smoking as with any addiction is challenging, and commonly involves relapse and multiple attempts to give up the addiction. Quit lines offer smokers the opportunity to dip in and partake of their services as and when they need, with many offering 24-hour accessibility to services. Quit lines offer smokers a service that is convenient and flexible. It is tailored to their specific needs and practical considerations.  It creates the possibility of access to additional services such as medications, broader healthcare information and resources and assistance with chronic health conditions. As such, quitlines in many respects offer a highly suitable service both in terms of the nature of the addiction process and the clients they serve.

The efficacy of phone therapy for tobacco addiction has been strongly supported by research. Studies conducted and funded by the NCI indicate that in contrast to basic or no counseling, quitlines are more effective in in assisting people to quit their tobacco habit. A meta-analysis of 13 studies indicated a 56% increase in quitting tobacco addiction in contrast to self-help. Additional research has shown that a combination of medication and telephonic behavioral counseling yields better results in aiding people in avoiding smoking, in contrast to medication alone. Studies also point to the efficacy of telephone-based therapy in reaching a wide and diverse population. Research also indicates that phone therapy provides accessible and cost-effective individual counseling for smoking cessation. Many barriers to seeking support (e.g. cost, childcare, transportation) are eliminated with studies indicating that smokers are four times more likely to make use of quitlines in contrast to conventional face-to-face therapy.

The efficacy and accessibility of quit lines have made them an integral part of comprehensive tobacco addiction programs across the United States and beyond. Services have been extended to include Internet based delivery options such as Twitter, Facebook and online chats. Quit lines are considered an excellent resource in addressing tobacco addiction and in fact seem to offer a superior service in contrast to face to face counseling. These counseling services equip people addicted to tobacco with the support, resources and tools to facilitate their journey to a tobacco free life.

Author Bio:

Stacey Leibowitz-Levy, PhD, is a licensed psychologist with a master’s degree in clinical psychology and a PhD in the area of stress and its relation to goals and emotion. She is the editor for e-counseling.com.

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